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NO MORE ‘NEEDS’: growing confidence and improving skills around sexuality in social work research, learning and practice. Practical Learning: achieving excellence in the human services PEPE conference Edinburgh 2008 Joy Trotter and Trish Hafford-Letchfield

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NO MORE ‘NEEDS’: growing confidence and improving skills around sexuality in social work research, learning and practice

Practical Learning: achieving excellence in the human services

PEPE conference



Joy Trotter and Trish Hafford-Letchfield

University of Teesside - London South Bank University

sexuality in social work
sexuality in social work

familiar concepts

  • social exclusion & marginalisation
  • anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive practices

these imply that social work

  • embraces equality and diversity
  • has become ‘culturally competent’
  • subscribes to moral and ethical standards which include respect for others, regardless of their sexual orientation


sexuality issues continue to be marginalized or excluded altogether (Leech & Trotter, 2005; Fish, 2006)

Joy Trotter & Trish Hafford -Letchfield

sexuality in research
sexuality in research
  • Despite the 2002 RAE specifically remarking on sexuality as one of a number of new and emerging areas for social work (Shaw & Norton, 2007) it continues to be under-funded and under-researched.
  • Others have contributed:
    • education - focussing on schools & sexual bullying and sex education
    • sociology and social policy - developing understandings & debates around sexuality
    • economists and demographers - struggled to capture or predict trends relating to sexual diversity within families
    • health and psychology – mostly AIDS/HIV, STDs and other ‘problems’
    • criminology – around sex offenders and child sexual abuse

Joy Trotter & Trish Hafford -Letchfield

sexuality in learning
sexuality in learning
  • Despite a number of pioneering texts around a decade ago(Logan et al, 1996; Hicks, 1996; Trotter & Gilchrist, 1996; Trotter, 1998; Brown, 1998; Trotter, 2000a, 2000b; Logan, 2001)very little has been transferred to national learning resources, training policies or general educational materials.
  • Social Work and Sexuality(Brown, 1998)omitted from BASW’s (Macmillan Press) re-launch of Practical Social Work series in 2006 (12 titles) nor was it included in advertisements for ‘key backlist books’ (10 titles)
  • Learning Matters – helping social workers to support people in ‘achieving their sexual rights’(Jones & Bywater, 2007, p134)

Joy Trotter & Trish Hafford -Letchfield

sexuality in practice
sexuality in practice
  • Common mistakes:
      • sexuality often confused with sex (behaviour),
      • sexuality confined to ‘issues’ (problems) and/or
      • sexuality conflated with sexual (sexiness).
  • Technicist approaches to assessment and service provision have emerged which seek to identify the particular ‘needs’ of ‘minority’ populations(Jeyasingham, 2008).
    • These have focussed on non hetero-sexual people, implying
      • heterosexuals do not have needs
      • non hetero-sexual people have only ‘needs’
      • non-heterosexuals can be regarded as one homogenous population and
      • there are no overlaps or ‘needs’ that are held in common between the ‘two’ populations.
  • Its also assumed that once these so-called ‘needs’ are ‘known’, they will somehow be addressed(Hicks, 2005).

Joy Trotter & Trish Hafford -Letchfield

community of practice
community of practice
  • Evolving
  • Opening up a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives
  • Invite different levels of participation
  • Develop both public and private community spaces
  • Focus on values
  • Create a rhythm for the community

Joy Trotter & Trish Hafford -Letchfield

a case study
a case study

Symposium: Sexuality issues in social work practice, education and research

Began in June 2004

Aims/objectives - To extend and strengthen the knowledge base by:

  • providing a friendly and safe forum for discussion and dissemination of ideas
  • sharing and developing ideas;
  • supporting and sustaining each others’ interests and endeavours;
  • contributing to and collaborating on research projects and publications.

Membership - Social work and allied academics, researchers, practitioners, students and service users with proven &/or active interests in sexuality issues.


  • share the data-base of contacts
  • share information, news and ideas
  • contribute ‘reading lists’, with recommended favourite(s) & accompanying review
  • regular meetings, seminars and conferences
  • research projects
  • collaborative writing

Joy Trotter & Trish Hafford -Letchfield

growing confidence
growing confidence
  • Growing membership
  • Developing identity
  • Evolving leadership
  • Ongoing learning through:
    • mutual engagement & joint enterprise
    • sharing -
      • personal, educational & professional histories
      • life experiences
    • giving meaning to practice
    • participation

Joy Trotter & Trish Hafford -Letchfield

improving skills
improving skills
  • Virtual and real support network
  • Developing expertise
  • Campaigning / lobbying
  • Publishing
  • Workshops / conferences
  • Research projects
  • Seminar series

Joy Trotter & Trish Hafford -Letchfield

exciting futures
Exciting futures
  • Early days – fluid and informal network
    • Recognising differences?
    • Including and collaborating?
    • Direction & future?
    • SIG or Symposium?
  • Shifting the focus by
    • pursuing clarity about values
    • widening participation & perspective
    • meanings/understandings emerging -no more ‘needs’

Joy Trotter & Trish Hafford -Letchfield


Brown, H. C. (1998) Social Work and Sexuality: Working with Lesbians and Gay Men, Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Fish, J. (2006) Heterosexism and Social Care, Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Hicks, S. (1996) ‘The last resort? Lesbian and gay experiences of the social work assessment process in fostering and adoption’, Practice, 8(2), 15-24.

Hicks, S. (2005) ‘Sexuality: social work theories and practice’. In Adams, R., Dominelli, L. & Payne, M. (eds) Social Work Futures: Crossing Boundaries, Transforming Practice, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Jeyasingham, D. (2008) ‘Knowledge/ignorance and the construction of sexuality in social work education’, Social Work Education, 27(2), 22–35.

Jones, R. & Bywater, J. (2007) Sexuality and Social Work. Exeter: Learning Matters.

Leech, N. and Trotter, J. (2005) ‘”None of them ever asked about sex”: some personal thoughts as to why social workers have difficulty discussing sexuality with young people’, Socio-analysis, 7, 19-36.

Logan, J. (2001) ‘Sexuality, child care and social work education’, Social Work Education, 20(5), 563–575.

Logan, J., Kershaw, S., Karban, K., Mills, S. Trotter, J. & Sinclair, M. (1996) Confronting Prejudice: Lesbian and Gay Issues in Social Work Education, Aldershot: Arena.

Shaw, I. and Norton, M. (2007) The Kinds and Quality of Social Work Research in UK Universities: Using Knowledge In Social Care Report17, London: Social Care Institute for Excellence.

Trotter, J. (1998) ‘Learning and practising, or just saying the words? Anti-discriminatory issues in social work training’, Journal of Practice Teaching in Health and Social Work, 1(2), 31-47.

Trotter, J. (2000) ‘Speaking out, coming out and being outed: different sexualities and child protection practices’. In Cox, P., Kershaw, S. & Trotter, J. (eds) Child Sexual Assault: Feminist Perspectives, London: Macmillan.

Trotter, J. (2000) ‘Who’s leading whom? Sexuality and young people’. In Harris, J., Froggett, L. & Paylor, I. (eds) Social Work Making a Difference, Birmingham: Venture Press.

Trotter, J. and Gilchrist, J. (1996) ‘Assessing DipSW students: anti-discriminatory practice in relation to lesbian and gay issues’, Social Work Education, 15(1), 75-82.

Joy Trotter & Trish Hafford -Letchfield